Sydney as a global city down the drain?

Jul 3, 2020

The concept of turning Sydney into a Global City was hatched during the Olympic Games in 2000. The Liberals revived it in 2011 when they swept to power. Property developers loved it. But is the concept still viable?

PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the global accountancy firm favoured by the conservative side of politics, wrote a report entitled Sydney – Australia’s Global City in June 2010.

It was commissioned by the pro-Liberal Sydney Business Chamber whose executive director, the Hon Patricia Forsythe, is a former Liberal MP. The report quickly found its way across town to then Premier Barry O’Farrell’s desk.

“This report should only embolden Sydney to grasp the opportunity to be a gateway for the emerging economic powerhouse of the Asia-Pacific region,” it said. “It will remind us of the great advantages we take for granted, that have made Sydney the envy of others, and the opportunities that lay at our doorstep.”

This public relations waffle can be translated as meaning, “Sydney has re-opened for business and there is lots of money to be made from building the Global City”.

The document became the incoming conservative government’s blueprint for three things: 1) building the city’s much-neglected infrastructure with the assistance of limitless public money; 2) helping its mates in the private sector with juicy public works projects and 3) creating political alliances to secure the election of future Coalition Governments.

None of these political ambitions are new: they are shared by the mainstream parties where they are traditional aspirations. Indeed, Labor’s David Borger, executive director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber and a former aspirant to become NSW Premier, is a Global City cheerleader.

But trouble arises when the political and economic situation changes dramatically and the politicians are caught flat-footed. They are committed to a plan and they can’t, or are unwilling to, change course.

This is what has happened to the NSW Coalition under successive Premiers – Barry O’Farrell, Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian.

They seem to have forgotten the old adage: “If you are in a hole, stop digging.” No one appears to be able tell the Liberal-led Government that a change of direction is overdue. That is because they have surrounded themselves with over-paid bureaucrats, Liberal Party loyalists and flatterers.

ScienceDirect, an international website with a database of scientific journals and e-books, has been highly critical of the Global City proposal, arguing: “The Global City narrative has become an obstacle to fixing the city” because it “diverts scholarly research and policy-making away from critical urban problems facing the city”.

It added: “Given the Government’s embrace of neo-liberalism, the Global City vision advanced by leaders is threatened. Sydney also illustrates the dilemma of Global Cities in that those members at the top of the knowledge economy are highly rewarded and those in the middle and lower strata face difficulty maintaining or improving their situations. Urban crisis includes not enough jobs or pay, limited local autonomy, poor public transport, unaffordable housing, and inaction on climate change.”

Ominously, five MPs from the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party have sent a letter to Premier Berejiklian with a list of specific demands to spend billions of dollars in rural NSW and establish a Regional NSW Infrastructure Board. They are Robert Borsak and Mark Banasiak from the Upper House, and Roy Butler, Philip Donato and Helen Dalton from the Legislative Assembly.

This dissident group of MPs from a minority party will cause untold grief for the Coalition Government because their votes are desperately needed in both Houses.

In the background is One Nation MLC Mark Latham, the former Australian Labor Party leader, who supports the strategy wholeheartedly.

Premier Berejiklian and her “wet” supporters still talk about the Global City but Treasurer Dominic Perrottet hardly mentions it at all. It is an issue that divides the Liberal Party and the Coalition itself.

NSW Treasury mandarins have always believed the Global City concept was barmy and now they have a Treasurer who thinks the same thing.

Perrottet is already clearing the decks with some traditional neoliberalism. The desalination plant at Cronulla and the Ultimo site of the Powerhouse Museum are to be sold off, the football stadiums madness is on hold, public employees are being sacked while others are being deprived of their entitlements, outsourcing and Crown land sales are being stepped up and, as usual, the arts will cop a beating.

Premier Berejiklian’s Global City is disappearing and Treasurer Perrottet’s bleak vision is rising.

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